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Wed, 28 Jun 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

Airplane Paper

Key to learning: Curiosity linked with psychological, emotional and social benefits

© mybraintest.org

That's the question parents and teachers both dread and love to hear from kids. We dread it because, well, sometimes we don't know the answer—or we're too lazy or harried to come up with a good one. But we usually do our best, understanding that curiosity is key to learning.

But did you know that the benefits of curiosity are not limited to the intellectual? For children and adults alike, curiosity has been linked with psychological, emotional, social, and even health benefits. Here are six of them!

1. Curiosity helps us survive

The urge to explore and seek novelty helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment, which may be why our brains evolved to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we encounter new things.

2. Curious people are happier

Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being. Of course, it may be, at least partially, that people who are already happier tend to be more curious, but since novelty makes us feel good (see above), it seems likely that it goes the other direction as well.

3. Curiosity boosts achievement

Studies reveal that curiosity leads to more enjoyment and participation in school and higher academic achievement, as well as greater learning, engagement, and performance at work. It may seem like common sense, but when we are more curious about and interested in what we are doing, it's easier to get involved, put effort in, and do well.

Comment: See also:


The Science of breathing

© randefit.com
Western research is now proving what 
yogis have known all along: Breath work can deliver powerful mind and body benefits, learn how and why to take better advantage of it both in practice and in life.

Your body breathes on autopilot—so why worry about how to inhale and exhale when you could be mastering an arm balance? For one thing, breath control, or pranayama, is the fourth of Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga. For another, scientific research is showing that mindful breathing—paying attention to your breath and learning how to manipulate it—is one of the most effective ways to lower everyday stress levels and improve a variety of health factors ranging from mood to metabolism. "Pranayama is at once a physical-health practice, mental-health practice, and meditation. It is not just breath training; it's mind training that uses the breath as a vehicle," says Roger Cole, PhD, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and physiology researcher in Del Mar, California. "Pranayama makes your entire life better."

Comment: Deep Breathing Exercises Can Improve Your Life:


The journey from boy to man: A lesson from the Sioux

"The Indian, in his simple philosophy, was careful to avoid a centralized population, wherein lies civilization's devil. He would not be forced to accept materialism as the basic principle of his life, but preferred to reduce existence to its simplest terms. His roving out-of-door life was more precarious, no doubt, than life reduced to a system, a mechanical routine; yet in his view it was and is infinitely happier. To be sure, this philosophy of his had its disadvantages and obvious defects, yet it was reasonably consistent with itself, which is more than can be said for our modern civilization. He knew that virtue is essential to the maintenance of physical excellence, and that strength, in the sense of endurance and vitality, underlies all genuine beauty. He was as a rule prepared to volunteer his services at any time in behalf of his fellows, at any cost of inconvenience and real hardship, and thus to grow in personality and soul-culture. Generous to the last mouthful of food, fearless of hunger, suffering, and death, he was surely something of a hero. Not 'to have,' but 'to be,' was his national motto."
- Charles Alexander Eastman
It has sometimes been said that the life of the American Indian has been overly romanticized by those who lack firsthand knowledge of what that life really consisted of, and are merely looking back through the hazy mists of time.

Yet one who was not long removed from growing up immersed in Native American culture, remembered it as wistfully as anyone, saying, "The Indian boy enjoyed such a life as almost all boys dream of and would choose for themselves if they were permitted to do so."

The writer of this sentiment was a man known at his death as Charles Alexander Eastman. But that was not his original name. He was born a member of the Eastern Dakota (or Santee) Sioux tribe in 1858 and dubbed Hakadah, or "pitiful last," for his mother died in giving birth to him. The boy's father, Many Lightnings, was thought to have been killed by whites during the Dakota War of 1862, and he was raised by his grandmother and uncle in the ways of traditional Sioux life; this included being given a new name when he became a young man: Ohiyesa or "always wins."

Before this boy's life would take a dramatic and unexpected turn, and Ohiyesa would became Eastman, he would nearly complete the Sioux journey from boy to man. The elements of this journey contain much wisdom for young men in the present day, and the grown men who wish to see them raised to honorable manhood.

Comment: This article highlights what mechanisms and values need to be in place for the young generations to grow up to be valued and valuable members of society. It doesn't seem to be coincidental that the white man, in his greed and hubris, destroyed most of these tribes in this "clash of civilizations".

But maybe this could serve as a template for future generations, adapted to modern life. The central tenet seems to be the focus on citizens to be "public servants". Instead, our culture today is focused on self-promotion, self-advancement and self-advertisement (even at the expense of others) - the exact antithesis of what the above article describes.

Blue Planet

Scientific studies show the myriad ways nature enhances physical and mental health

Contact with nature has been tied to health in a plenitude of studies. Time spent in and around tree-lined streets, gardens, parks, and forested and agricultural lands is consistently linked to objective, long-term health outcomes. The less green a person's surroundings, the higher their risk of morbidity and mortality - even when controlling for socioeconomic status and other possible confounding variables. The range of specific health outcomes tied to nature is startling, including depression and anxiety disorder, diabetes mellitus, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), various infectious diseases, cancer, healing from surgery, obesity, birth outcomes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal complaints, migraines, respiratory disease, and others, reviewed below. Finally, neighborhood greenness has been consistently tied to life expectancy and all-cause mortality (see Table 3 in the Supplementary Materials).

These findings raise the possibility that such contact is a major health determinant, and that greening may constitute a powerful, inexpensive public health intervention. It is also possible, however, that the consistent correlations between greener surroundings and better health reflect self-selection - healthy people moving to or staying in greener surroundings. Examining the potential pathways by which nature might promote health seems paramount — both to assess the credibility of a cause-and-effect link and to suggest possible nature-based health interventions. Toward that end, this article offers: (1) a compilation of plausible pathways between nature and health; (2) criteria for identifying a possible central pathway; and (3) one promising candidate for a central pathway.

Comment: See also:


Is it possible to will yourself to die?

Can you cause your own death by the sheer power of your will? Is it possible to command your heart to stop beating? Without any physical act of suicide or deliberate starvation, can a human being die just because they wish to?

While there is plenty of folklore surrounding this topic, the science is disputable. There is, however, something called the nocebo effect, which is the psychosomatic physical damage to a person involved in a clinical study who believes that something harmless (like a placebo sugar pill) can harm them. In one unfortunate drug trial, a subject swallowed 26 placebo antidepressants in order to commit suicide and his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. The patient survived.

Cardboard Box

Got too much junk? Study reveals possible explanation for hoarding

© Shutterstock
When Paul Hammond, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, started collecting used cars and appliances to sell for scrap metal, he probably did not suspect that his habit would one day turn into a serious hoarding issue and land him in jail.

But, over the years, random items kept piling up in his yard, and Hammond just was not getting rid of them. After numerous complaints from the neighbors, who accused him of turning his property into a junkyard, county authorities got involved and cited him for criminal littering. They also threatened to put him in jail if he did not clean up.

When Hammond's brother came to visit him for the Fourth of July several years ago, he saw about 90 cars, about 50 refrigerators and 100 lawn mowers in the yard. The brother quit his job for four months to help Hammond get rid of the stuff. But the county officials were not happy with the job the men did and they put Hammond in jail for five days.

Comment: Decision-Making Brain Activity in Patients With Hoarding Disorder


Techniques to endure the discomfort of painful emotions

We can pretend our painful feelings don't exist. We can ignore them. We can judge and resist them. And so many of us do, because we think that this will soften the blow. This will help us bypass the discomfort of our hurt, sorrow, agony, anger, anxiety. We assume the feelings will just go away (and they might, but only temporarily).

It might not even be a conscious, willful decision. Avoidance might be a habit we picked up throughout the years, and now feels like an old sweater. Comfortable. Reliable. Our go-to security blanket. When we're cold, we automatically put it on.

But unaddressed pain persists.

Comment: See also:


Dulling our pain may also reduce empathy - study

© Shutterstock
Looking at photos of starving refugees or earthquake victims can trigger a visceral sense of empathy. But how, exactly, do we feel others' agony as our own? A new study suggests that seeing others in pain engages some of the same neural pathways as when we ourselves are in pain. Moreover, both pain and empathy can be reduced by a placebo effect that acts on the same pathways as opioid painkillers, the researchers found.

"This study provides one of the most direct demonstrations to date that first-hand pain and pain empathy are functionally related," says neurobiologist Bernadette Fitzgibbon of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who was not involved in the new research. "It's very exciting."

Previous studies have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to show that similar areas of the brain are activated when someone is in pain and when they see another person in pain. But overlaps on a brain scan don't necessarily mean the two function through identical pathways—the shared brain areas could relate to attention or emotional arousal, among other things, rather than pain itself.

Social neuroscientist Claus Lamm and colleagues at the University of Vienna took a different approach to test whether pain and empathy are driven by the same pathways. The researchers first divided about 100 people into control or placebo groups. They gave the placebo group a pill they claimed to be an expensive, over-the-counter painkiller, when in fact it was inactive. This well-established placebo protocol is known to function similarly to opioid painkillers, while avoiding the drugs' side effects.

Then, the team asked the participants to rate the amount of pain they felt from small electric shocks and gauge the pain they thought someone in an adjacent room felt from the same type of shocks. Those receiving the placebo pill reported less pain and rated other's pain as lower than participants who received no pill at all. When the researchers watched the participants' brains with fMRI, activation in brain areas that included both the empathy network and the pain network were dampened by the placebo, strengthening the idea—suggested by previous fMRI studies—that the two are driven by the same underlying processes in the brain.

Comment: Polyvagal theory: The biological fingerprint for compassion and empathy


Mini Meditators: Schools are teaching kids to meditate so that they'll be more focused and less stressed

© teenbeing.com
For those of us older than 30 and not from southern California, meditation was not part of our childhood curriculum. If we engaged in deep breathing, it was because we were running too fast, not because we were part of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

But meditation in classrooms is sky-rocketing. Youth meditation programs have popped up in England, the US, Canada, and India. Research shows that it is helping to reduce stress and decrease rates of depression. It may also improve academic results though this area of research is less developed.

Last year Educational Psychology Review looked at evidence from 15 peer-reviewed studies examining whether meditation improved children's well-being, social competence and academic performance. It found that school-based meditation is beneficial in the majority of cases, with 61% of the results being statistically significant. The majority of effects were small, though a third were medium or strong. They ranged from kids reporting fewer feelings of anxiety and stronger friendships, to teachers seeing more settled classrooms.

Comment: Similar meditation programs are being implemented in schools across the nation. Allison Gaines Pell, head of the Blue School in New York City says 'Educators see the benefits of meditation. It's a device that helps kids prepare for the work of school; intellectual work, work on friendships, finding solutions to problems.' In addition recent studies have shown school meditation programs to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Listed below are examples of meditation and it's beneficial application for children:

Ornament - Red

Baby psychopaths? Preferring a red ball over a human face may predict callous/unemotional traits

© PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura via Getty Images
There are many possible signs that can help you spot a psychopath -- they may not yawn when others do, they might stay eerily calm in dangerous situations, and for all of their charm and charisma, they tend to have few (if any) close friends.

These subtle clues can help you identify an adult psychopath, but is it possible to tell whether a child is on the road to becoming one later in life? Actually, it might be. A newly devised test purportedly spots signs of antisocial behavior in infants and toddlers.

Comment: The full text of the study is available here. Here is the abstract of the paper:
Children with callous-unemotional (CU) traits, a proposed precursor to adult psychopathy, are characterized by impaired emotion recognition, reduced responsiveness to others' distress, and a lack of guilt or empathy. Reduced attention to faces, and more specifically to the eye region, has been proposed to underlie these difficulties, although this has never been tested longitudinally from infancy. Attention to faces occurs within the context of dyadic caregiver interactions, and early environment including parenting characteristics has been associated with CU traits. The present study tested whether infants' preferential tracking of a face with direct gaze and levels of maternal sensitivity predict later CU traits.

Data were analyzed from a stratified random sample of 213 participants drawn from a population-based sample of 1233 first-time mothers. Infants' preferential face tracking at 5 weeks and maternal sensitivity at 29 weeks were entered into a weighted linear regression as predictors of CU traits at 2.5 years.

Controlling for a range of confounders (e.g., deprivation), lower preferential face tracking predicted higher CU traits (p = .001). Higher maternal sensitivity predicted lower CU traits in girls (p = .009), but not boys. No significant interaction between face tracking and maternal sensitivity was found.

This is the first study to show that attention to social features during infancy as well as early sensitive parenting predict the subsequent development of CU traits. Identifying such early atypicalities offers the potential for developing parent-mediated interventions in children at risk for developing CU traits.